An aspect of day-to-day life that is undergoing incredible change involves the telephone. People can call just about anywhere in the world virtually instantaneously.
They can also use their smart phones to share videos and photographs, read news articles, instantly check the weather, and do myriads of other things.
Telecommunications overall is a relatively new part of life.
When Red Deer was first established in the 1890s, people communicated by word of mouth, or by letter.
Urgent messages could be sent by telegraph, but the amount of information that could be sent was quite limited and the cost of a telegram was high.
A trip to the local train station was also required as that was where the telegraph office was located.
The first local telephone service in Red Deer was supplied by the Western General Electric and Telephone company.
In 1903, it was granted a 25-year telephone franchise by Red Deer’s Town Council.
While the Western General was establishing its phone service, the Bell Telephone Company built the first long distance line from Calgary to Edmonton with connections to Red Deer.
Therefore, Red Deer got long distance before it got local phone service.
Bell soon offered both business and residential phone service as well. The Western General and Bell began to actively compete for local customers.
Surprisingly, the local company quickly developed the competitive edge.
The Western General installed the first central energy system in Alberta. This system proved to be technologically superior to the magneto equipment used by Bell.
The Western General further strengthened its position by setting cheaper phone rates than Bell’s.
In 1908, Alberta Government Telephones, which had been established two years before, bought out Bell’s long distance system. Bell then left Red Deer.
Once the Western General had the local market all to itself, it dramatically raised its rates. Town Council attempted to deal with the subsequent public outcry by offering to buy out the Western General. However, the bid failed.
Unfortunately, despite its high rates, the Western General did not keep up with changes in technology. In 1920, A.G.T. finally purchased the local company for $85,000. That was $10,000 more than A.G.T. felt the system was worth, but $40,000 less than the Western General had been asking.
A new telephone exchange building was built on Ross St. Both local and long distance phone service improved immensely, and at a much lower cost.
In 1936, the Red Deer Mutual Telephone Company, a co-operative, was established to expand and improve telephone service in rural areas. The Red Deer Mutual was taken over by A.G.T. in 1970.
Meanwhile, A.G.T. continued to make a number of technological improvements.
In 1957, a microwave tower was constructed on the North Hill. It greatly improved long distance phone service. It also allowed the provision of live broadcast feed for Red Deer’s first television station, C.H.C.A.
In 1959-1960, AG.T. built a three-storey exchange building on 51 St. to house advanced telecommunications equipment.
The new structure became the tallest building in Red Deer. An underground cable line from Calgary through Red Deer to Edmonton was installed. Telex connections were also put into place to allow the initiation of this new technological marvel.
In April 1961, the first direct distance dialing service on the Canadian prairies was inaugurated in Red Deer.
Red Deer was chosen for this innovation because of its location between Alberta’s two major cities and because it was already a major long distance telephone switching centre.
At the official launching ceremonies, the assembled dignitaries bragged that all the new equipment “Had been made completely by and for Canadians and was installed and will be operated by Canadians.”